Thursday 30 June 2016

Colombia - Day 9 (January 25, 2015) - Bogota area including PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands

January 17, 2015 - Isla de Salamanca, Minca, El Dorado lodge
January 18, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 19, 2015 - Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, El Dorado lodge
January 20 and 21, 2015 - El Dorado lodge to Minca
January 22, 2015 - Minca, drive to La Guajira Desert
January 23, 2015 - La Guajira Desert
January 24, 2015 - PNN Tayrona, fly to Andes
January 25, 2015 - Bogotá area: PNN Chingaza, Siecha wetlands
January 26, 2015 - Laguna de Pedro Palo, Payande area
January 27, 2015 - Cañón del Río Combeima, SFF Otún Quimbaya
January 28, 2015 - SFF Otún Quimbaya, drive to Montezuma Road
January 29, 2015 - Montezuma Road
January 30, 2015 - Montezuma Road, drive to Jardín
January 31, 2015 - Jardín area, Cauca Valley
February 1, 2015 - Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco
February 2, 2015 - Páramo del Ruiz near PNN Los Nevados


We made it to the airport on time on January 24, and before long we were airborne, en route to Bogotá. The capital of Colombia, Bogotá is located high in the Andes at an elevation of 2,640 m, making it the fourth highest capital city behind La Paz, Bolivia (3,640 m), Quito, Ecuador (2,850 m) and Thimphu, Bhutan (2,648 m).

After the uneventful flight, we touched down in the late afternoon and waited for our driver to pick us up at the airport. William soon arrived and after some introductions we loaded our packs into his SUV and we were on our way.

William was an excellent driver and although he did not speak any English, we did the best we could with our broken Spanish to communicate. Due to the Bogotá traffic we did not arrive at our pre-booked hotel until after dark. That evening we went out for dinner and beers at a nearby restaurant, eagerly awaiting what the next ten days had in store.

David Bell arrived during the night after we had gone to bed, and by 4 or 4:30 we were all up. We collected our packed breakfast that we had arranged with the hotel the night before, and stepped outside into the predawn darkness just as Adam Timpf arrived. Adam and Dave would be traveling in Colombia for two months; Dave would spend the first 10 days or so of their adventure with us, while Adam would be joining periodically. Before long William pulled up and we were on our way.

Bogotá is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and while cattle grazing has taken up much of the natural landscape, there are several large protected areas remaining. Parque Nacional Natural Chingaza rises up above the city. The park shelters cloud forest, and further up, large swaths of paramo, home to the iconic frailejones and the endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrests that survive in this unique habitat. Unfortunately at this time of year the helmetcrests would not be in an accessible area; instead we would be birding some of the lower elevations near the entrance to the park. In addition to connecting with a wide variety of colorful and unique species found in the Andes we were hoping to cross paths with a number of near-endemics and endemics, including the Vulnerable Brown-breasted Parakeet, an endemic Colombian species numbering less than 10,000.

Steve (foreground) and William near PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

We drove for a couple of hours, making our way up a gravel road through chunks of woodland interspersed with cleared areas being grazed by cattle. The lifers started appearing immediately and in short order we had racked up quite a few, including Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, White-browed Spinetail, Green Jay, Smoky Bush-Tyrant and two species of chat-tyrants. Brown-bellied Swallow were now the default swallow in the small towns we passed, while small flocks of tanagers included the stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. Unfortunately I was not able to obtain any decent photos of them. Needless to say the birding was exciting, and we periodically exited the vehicle to bird stretches of the road.

Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant - PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

Several of our target hummingbird species made an appearance at a flowering tree, including Amethyst-throated Sunangel and Blue-throated Starfrontlet

Throughout the course of the morning we birded hard, trying to tease out each and every species on the mountain, while at the same time attempting to memorize each of the vocalizations that we were hearing. The first day birding in a completely new area often comes with a little bit of frustration at trying to remember each species, though that feeling is always overwhelmed with the excitement of new discovery around each corner.

(left to right) Adam, David, Dan Wylie, Dan Riley birding at PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

Despite the heavy fog as we ascended to the gate of the National Park, the birding was enjoyable, even if the fog severely limited the number of species that we would cross paths with. The lifers kept coming - three species of warbler, two flowerpiercers, a handful of tanagers and odds and ends like Pearled Treerunner, Mountain Cacique, Slaty Brushfinch and Andean Guan. A stunning Crimson-mantled Woodpecker was a nice addition, and was another species I wish I had a chance to photograph!

Andean Guan - PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

We hiked along the edge of the cloud forest for most of the morning, marveling at the vibrant, lush flora. With the foggy backdrop, photos looking across the mountainside were rather dramatic.

PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

Rufous-browed Conebill, a near-endemic bird species, was eventually added to our lists. We spotted a few Glowing Pufflegs, but the near-endemic Coppery-bellied Puffleg was nowhere to be found, a species we would miss throughout the rest of the trip. One of the morning's highlight was a small, noisy group of White-capped Tanagers that broke through the fog and appeared in some trees along the ridge. This species can be fairly nomadic and scarce throughout its range (Andes of Colombia through central Peru). At the time, it broke up a bit of a lull in the bird action.

White-capped Tanager - PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

We encountered a few mixed flocks throughout our walk, many containing various tanagers, warblers, tyrannulets, and spinetails. A few Rufous Antpittas were heard calling, as well as Pale-bellied Tapaculo. The latter is a near-endemic, found in the Andes of north-central Colombia as well as adjacent northwest Venezuela.

Corades sp. - PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant - PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

Steve at PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

We walked back to the vehicle after a successful morning of birding and slowly made our way down the mountain. As we were driving along the bumpy road, a small flock of parakeets shot by the vehicle, parallel to us down the mountainside. Brown-breasted Parakeets! We all got on them briefly, some with better looks than others. Unfortunately that would be the extent of our luck with that endemic species, but at least it was better than nothing.

It was interesting to note how much land just beyond of the national park had been cleared by local farmers for grazing land.

pasture outside of PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

pasture outside of PNN Chingaza, Mundo Nuevo Province, Colombia

We had done quite well in the low elevations of Chingaza and the adjacent lower slopes so as the sun broke through the fog we continued onwards, our destination being a group of artificial wetlands on the outskirts of Bogotá.I was already up to 38 life birds on the day - a bit overwhelming but certainly exciting.

The Siecha wetlands were established by the flooding of the Siecha river over abandoned limestone quarries. Quite a few different species of waterbirds typically found in Andean alpine lakes can be found here, while these wetlands are also home to the Endangered, endemic Bogotá Rail. Also found here is an endemic subspecies of Spot-flanked Gallinule, Andean Duck, Andean Teal, and Noble Snipe, among other waterbirds and shorebirds.

pasture near Siecha wetlands, Gravilleras de Capilla de Siecha, Colombia

It took a bit of driving around but we eventually found the access point to one of the better sites. Here, cattle graze in the surrounding pastures.

A scan of the ducks revealed Andean Duck, Andean Teal and Blue-winged Teal, while several noisy Southern Lapwings alerted all the other species of our arrival with their raucous calls.

Andean Ducks and Blue-winged Teals - Siecha wetlands, Gravilleras de Capilla de Siecha, Colombia

Southern Lapwings - Siecha wetlands, Gravilleras de Capilla de Siecha, Colombia

In no time at all we had found several Noble Snipes, and eventually a Bogotá Rail was spotted skulking in the reeds. Some of the other guys were able to take some distant photos, though I arrived a little late on the scene and focused more on obtaining good looks than trying for photos. We also found a couple of vocal Spot-flanked Gallinules, while a single Gray Seedeater (another target species found here) was spotted in the neighbouring field. This Sharp-shinned Hawk was perched quietly on one of the fences, keeping an eye on us while simultaneously scanning for prey.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Siecha wetlands, Gravilleras de Capilla de Siecha, Colombia

It had only taken us 31 minutes and we had seen all of our target species at the Siecha wetlands so we headed back to our hotel within Bogotá, stopping on the way for a hearty meal and several beers. It was an excellent day in the field, with the ideal combination of good weather, several endemic and near-endemic birds, and an excellent introduction to the birds of the Andes. The following day we would begin heading west to the Magdalena Valley, stopping at several locations along the way.